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Farming with Management Zones

Management zone methods improve on traditional systems

Even within a single field, many different variables can affect how your crop performs. It only makes sense then that blanket treating an entire field for the same problem might not be the best way to manage resources or boost productivity.

Management zones offer a solution by isolating different problem areas and mapping them out in a single field. By more precisely identifying high- and low-yielding areas, management zoning helps farmers give the right attention to the right problems.

In a July 2014 article for Farm Journal magazine, Technology and Issues Editor Chris Bennett discusses the benefits of using management zones in precision agriculture. More and more growers have moved away from traditional grid-based systems as they see the benefits of using management zones to make the most of their input investments. "Management zones are a producer's guide to variable rate farming," Bennett says. Read the full article here.

How it works

Mapping out management zones involves collecting and then analyzing a great deal of information. Brad Mathson, Senior Precision Ag Program Planner at Southern States, explains that anything that can have an effect on yield is examined. "Management zones are a correlation of variables, taken from calculations involving a lot of information, that are then managed accordingly."

Yield data, soil types, different types of imagery, topographic information, and producer experience are all data used to isolate yield areas in a field. Because each field has variability, several zones are mapped out per field in order to help better manage inputs.

The zones identify a field's soil fertility and water-holding capacity to better determine its potential yield. From there, action can be taken, such as variable rate fertilizing and seeding, irrigation solutions, pest control, or lime needs. "With management zones, pretty much whatever needs fixing can be handled more precisely," Mathson says.

Putting it into practice

After mapping out the zones of a field, experts stress the importance of ground-truthing, or following up and examining what problems exist. Instead of relying solely on a map to indicate higher or lower production, it takes close observation and hands-on evaluation by farmers or agronomists to determine why the areas perform the way they do.

Mathson advises growers to look at management farming as getting a better picture of their fields. "We ask ourselves first of all, 'What is the problem? Can we fix it? If not, how do we manage it?'"

Although many farmers have practiced management zoning for years, its popularity has grown as of late. Often times, growers have no problem collecting the data needed for zoning, but face difficulty in analyzing and using the data to determine the best solution. Southern States experts can help make sense of combined variables, leading to more informed decisions in an operation.

"Our goals for our customers in management zoning are first, to simplify a complex situation, and second, to make the best use of a farmer's resources, thereby enhancing yields and maximizing returns," Mathson says.

For more information on management zones, please consult your local Southern States Agronomy Professional.

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